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HN: Zeman will seek more power during his second term in office

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Prague, March 8 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman’s first important step within his second mandate is his planned visit to the Communist congress, by which he confirms the new character of the domestic scene that he helped create and that boosts his own power, Petr Honzejk wrotes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) out on Thursday.

Political analysts agreed that Zeman’s second and last possible five-year term in office, which starts with his inauguration ceremony today, might be even wilder than the previous one, Honzejk writes.

Zeman definitely will not adopt a new, conciliatory approach he previously vowed to take. On the contrary, he will intensify his political games including his aim to annoy as many of his opponents as possible, Honzejk writes, quoting political scientist Pavel Saradin.

During his last term as president, Zeman does not have to respect anything. He will probably disrespect constitutional rules, break existing political taboos and systematically challenge Prague’s adherence to the West, Honzejk writes.

On the domestic scene, Zeman will undoubtedly seek to maximise his share of power. Not that he may establish a “presidential cabinet of his own,” like in 2013, when he appointed the Jiri Rusnok cabinet in spite of parliament’s disapproval of the step. However, if a Zeman-promoted government of ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD), supported by the Communists (KSCM), really emerges in the weeks to come, it would be Zeman’s cabinet to a large extent, Honzejk writes.

The CSSD’s new leadership favours Zeman, as does the KSCM, which owes its definitive legitimisation on the political scene to him. ANO leader Andrej Babis, for his part, is obliged to Zeman for having received “unlimited time” from him to form a new government, Honzejk writes.

Zeman will surely use all this to strengthen his influence on the government and behave like a government partner. He might be heading for a “crypto-presidential system”, in which the president does not formally wield strong powers but in fact he is the key political player, Honzejk writes.

On the foreign political scene, Zeman’s position will be more complicated. Zeman evidently is and will continue being pro-Russian, Honzejk writes.

True, Zeman dismisses the criticism that labels him as a puppet in Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s game, but his hitherto approach to the Ukrainian crisis, his rejection of anti-Russian sanctions and belittling the information on the Russian influencing of elections in Europe indicate much about his agenda in the next five years, Honzejk writes.

If Zeman wanted to promote Moscow’s interests more intensively than so far, he might face difficulties, Honzejk writes.

Citing PM Babis, he writes that Zeman’s pro-Russian approach has not in the least complicated Babis’s negotiations in the European Council, and says this is simply because EU politicians know that Zeman’s powers are limited.

“Neither Berlin nor Brussels take him very seriously,” Daniel Brossler, the Sudeutsche Zeitung’s correspondent in Brussels, said recently, Honzejk writes.

This might change during Zeman’s second term of office, however. If the Czech cabinet failed to resolutely insist on its position of a foreign policy maker, it might receive an “untrustworthy partner” label, Honzejk writes.

“We would start heading for isolation if the government succumbed to Zeman’s effort at softening Prague’s approach to Russia, if the justice minister succumbed to Zeman’s pressure for detained persons being extradited to Russia rather than the USA and if the government failed to resolutely correct the untrue statements Zeman makes about Europe and our partners,” Tomas Prouza, former Czech state secretary for EU affairs, is quoted as saying.

Two factors might slow down Zeman’s effort to change the country’s orientation. The first of them is paradoxically Babis, who is Zeman’s ally now, but whose business interests lie in the EU and who wants EU leaders to recognise him as a relevant partner, Honzejk writes.

The other factor is the health of Zeman, 73, whose condition has evidently worsened recently, Honzejk writes.

Nevertheless, Zeman should not be underestimated. Furthermore, even if his health complicated his performance as president, this could cause even a bigger problem, which would be the growing influence of his controversial close aides such as Vratislav Mynar and Martin Nejedly, Honzejk writes.

If so, a statement by Zeman’s unsuccessful rival in the presidential elections, academic Jiri Drahos, would sadly come true, Honzejk writes, citing Drahos words: “Milos Zeman has nothing more to give to this country, but his advisers can still take much away from it.”

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